[man] Crystal meth, obviously, it comes in little rock forms.
[man] You know what you're getting.
Majority of the time it will be my younger appearance and willingness to do whatever they want that will provide me the drugs.
So what I do is I take this and then in the baggy.
[man] Oh, I've had periods of sobriety, you know, within my five years of using I've had eight months, I've had six months, I've had a little three months, two months, you know, a few weeks, month.
[man] I don't use every single day, sleep, and then keep using.
I know that if I do that that I'll be dead in six months.
At some point I have to be realistic, you know.
For me this is suitable enough.
[man] In 2008, when I started using crystal meth, I was in a bar called Detox down in the East Village and I had the most extraordinary head rush that I had ever had in my entire life.
Like, I felt like I was gonna die on the spot, it was so intense.
Oh, wow, it was like-- it was like-- it was like dying and going to heaven.
Freedom. Meth-- meth, it's freedom.
[man] Like no other drug took me to that type of oblivion like where I just didn't give a fuck.
It's an exit door. I wish I had an exit door out of my life.
[man] It made everybody seem weirdly equal and it also made me feel like no matter who I am or what my experience was, now I'm kind of like in this.
I just knew like there was this incredible sensation, like I need more of this drug.
[man] Methamphetamine really impacts every sociological class, every kind of person across the board.
[man] We're seeing meth use among gay men in New York City rise three and four hundred percent.
[man] Over the last twenty years we've seen meth only get stronger.
It's becoming more pure. We're getting newer synthetics on the horizon and it's something that's increasing in our society as a whole.
[man] So I think this is a tidal wave that we just can't close our eyes and ignore.
[man] There's a sense that if we come out publicly about this epidemic, it will remind everyone that we're deviants.
[man] This epidemic needs to be addressed more clearly.
Dishwashing is always with it, but when you have a dishwasher, it saves your time and energy and washes your dishes hygienically clean every time.
All the unpleasantness of the chore is done away with.
You know, what's important to understand is that meth is only the latest iteration of amphetamines.
[man] My mother's generation were actually being prescribed amphetamines.
[man] Mother's Little Helper, you know what Mother's Little Helper is?
It's meth. It's Dexedrine and Benzedrine.
Oh my God, this house is so clean!
[man] In World War II, it was used by all sides.
[man] Think about the kamikaze pilots who were using methamphetamine and think about the recklessness, the impulsivity.
[man] Studies have shown that a lot of the friendly fire accidents are actually caused by people being up too long on stimulants.
[man] But it really was the first of these synthetics.
There's a trend now on almost every drug class to have synthetics.
So we're seeing, for example, heroin being gradually replaced by fentanyl, which is synthetic.
No one had any idea the destructive potential of the drug, and it's very hard to control or regulate.
[man] In the late '90s, dealers out west had been trying to break into the East Coast market because of the fundraising scene, the party scene that was going on at the time.
They realized it was through the gay community.
That was the way to break into the East Coast.
It was something that they began marketing as a way of staying up longer on the dance floor.
[man] I met a guy named Mado Neivelli and he was young and Italian and gorgeous.
And I was no slouch, I was the cute guy but I didn't have that high of an opinion of myself.
But this guy wanted to hang out with me, and I was like, hell, yeah.
I remember him saying "Do you smoke?"
And I'm like, "Well, no, I don't."
And I thought he was talking about cigarettes.
And he's like, "Well, have you ever tried 'Tina'?"
And I really wasn't sure what he meant by that.
And he holds up this pipe and he said, "Take a puff of this."
And he told me how to do it.
I'm thinking, "Well, if this is what I got to do to play with this guy, then I'm gonna do it," and I did and I remember the rush of it.
I'm feeling that rush right now.
So my name's Kristian Becker.
I was born and raised in New York in the Bronx.
I live life how I wanna live life.
I have been a crystal meth user since I was nineteen.
You know, when I did it the first time, I was in Miami and I was on Grindr and I was talking to this dude, six-foot-two, beautiful, light-skinned Cuban guy.
During the messages he asked, "Do you parTy?"
It's like a capital T, and I was like, I didn't pay no mind to it 'cause I had never heard the term before.
And I was like, "Yeah, of course, I've been partying all night."
He sends me his address, so I take a cab there and then when I come in, I see a mountain of stuff on his kitchen counter.
Turns out he's a dealer, but it's like a mountain, mountain of it.
And he hands me the pipe.
[man] Every once in a while you get that response of, "Oh, you don't look like a crystal meth addict."
Because crystal meth still does have that stigma; one, of it being just some trailer-trash drug that's made in a lab in the Midwest.
But I feel like now people are really starting to see what it's about and how it's used in metropolitan areas and, specifically, among gay men.
[man] The skinniness, the ability to have sex, you know, the hyper focusness, it's a perfect storm for gay people.
[man] So chemsex is this whole idea of using drugs as a way to enhance the sexual experience.
So meth is a really effective way to numb, as I mentioned.
I think that a lot of that is a result of what in the literature is called "minority stress", where people who have experienced a lot of discrimination and stigma based on who they are experience a lot of mental health and addiction issues.
I've had a lot of clients who have never been comfortable with gay sex who felt for the first time using methamphetamine they can celebrate being gay and having gay sex in a way that they never experienced before.
[David] There are some estimates that one out of four gay men in major urban areas in the States are semi-regularly using methamphetamine.
It's at epidemic levels within the gay community.
[man] I knew when I was probably seven or eight years old that I was-- there was something different about me.
I knew that I liked men.
I also knew that it was not what I was supposed to like, because boys were supposed to go with girls, men married women.
I remember being attracted to my best friend who lived across the street.
And, but always keeping it quiet.
[man] Everyone else knew I was gay before I did, or like before I was able to say it out loud.
It was funny to make fun of gay people.
I remember growing up and I would say like "That's so gay," you know.
That was just like a thing people said.
And then I came to NYU and it's like the gayest school in the world, so.
[man] Many gay men find it difficult to create connections. Why?
Because when you come to New York or any city or anywhere really you're told that you have one of two things to offer.
You're either gonna go on an app and have sex or you're gonna go to a bar and get drunk.
[David] So I think we have the apps like Grindr and Scruff that have made it tremendously easy to facilitate the sort of party and play culture.
And I think that's really had an impact on fueling the use of chemsex.
[Andrew] I was what they would call a weekend warrior.
Monday through Friday I would behave, and then Friday night I would log on the apps and the websites.
I probably had about six or seven different profiles or accounts.
And just start what they called out the hunt, which is look for the hottest guy with free drugs and pretty much pursue that.
[man] So some of the identifying factors on the apps include a lot of shorthand, like "PnP," standing for "party and play."
[Kristian] If I am searching for drugs, then I'll look for parTy with a capital T, PnP, cloud emoji, a little Japanese party popper emoji.
[man] These phrases that to the initiated are recognizable in terms of what they mean.
They're willing to both hook up for sex and to use drugs as well.
[Kristian] The thing with crystal meth and me is I never had to buy "Tina".
In the party community, you know, there's very few young people, you know, who party.
Um, and gays, you know, they're always chasing the young ones.
So you'd show up, throw stuff at you to get you as, you know, as high as you wanted, um, hotel rooms.
[man] Especially in big cities, I think meth is a great equalizer.
So you have a lot of older guys with money and younger guys who can provide sex.
And a lot of it was power because usually I didn't have the funds to do it.
I mean I needed something from them, they needed something, you know, from me and we get that.
We know how that works.
Being wanted and like getting high and, like, that-- that doesn't seem bad.
So I'm gonna get paid to do that, too?
Great. I needed to pay my rent.
At that point in my life, why would I say no to that, you know?
So the first time I tried crystal, and it was like holy shit.
All the issues were gone. Like me having no money was gone.
Me not making it musically where I thought I should have been was gone.
All the ex-boyfriends in my head were gone.
Like, all of the issues, I just got to completely turn off the world.
My name is Jimmie and I'm twenty-six years old, turning twenty-seven.
I think maybe for the longest time I was known as like the shy, quiet kid, and took me a while to come into my own.
[Jimmie] I have these impressions of myself as like this innocent guy who got corrupted by these greedy men who just wanted what they wanted. But I really did want it, too.
You know I can be three sheets to the wind tomorrow, even tonight, who even knows.
Once you're doing crystal meth, it takes all of those extreme things about you, even those assets, and it amplifies it.
There's not a lot of, you know, things that I'm insecure about, physically and-- and emotionally, but it didn't really too much matter in that moment when-- at least when the high was going on.
But, like, once you calm down, then it all comes crashing back down even worse.
[man] Methamphetamine works on a part of the brain called the limbic system or the reward circuitry.
That was designed to help us survive as a species.
So we have what are called natural rewards like food or sex, all those things that give a little natural burst of dopamine.
There's been careful studies of those where food is hundred and some units, sex is two hundred, nicotine is actually more, two twenty.
So we see that methamphetamine has about thirteen hundred, and so that makes it really highly addictive to almost anybody.
[man] Addicts have the experience of having tried to solve the problem of living by applying drugs to their pain.
Outside the circumscribed world of the addict, people are doing the same goddamn thing.
The non-crystal meth addict, overeater, the person who's in the marriage he-- he or she absolutely does not belong in, who has had kids that they are no manner, shape, or form psychologically and spiritually prepared to raise, on and on and on and on, you know. This is a human condition.
[Andrew] The reason I'm drawn to fantasy art a lot of the time is because I like the escapism aspect of that.
So when I'm really delving into a painting, I feel almost like I have this power to create a world of my vision, my liking.
Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the real world that I'm in and at least this one I can control it.
[Andrew] So, video games were my first addiction.
Like, the thing about the video games is I enjoy the escapism so much that once I'm invested in a world, it becomes more interesting to me than like my everyday life.
And there have been times when I'll wake up in the morning and just play till the sun's coming up the next day and like I've barely left my chair except to eat and go to the bathroom.
The way I play video games can be scary at times because it's that lack of impulse control.
It's-- it feels very much the same as when I would use drugs like I just-- rather than do what I need to-- need to, I do what I want to in that moment.
With this, for example, I was working on my book cover recently and then this game came out and I just, like, was so excited for this game that, you know, all-- all desire to work on the cover just sort of faded away and I was like, "I might as well just finish that video game, so that way I can put all of my attention to this piece."
So this is in HIV release.
It's a special release designed by the AIDS Institute in New York State to allow for the releasing of information around HIV, specifically.
[doctor] And I'm going to write limitations to what can be shared, okay?
[doctor] So any changes that might impact your mental health.
-[man] Okay. -[doctor] Okay?
That way it's limited. I just can't receive anything.
So if I snapped, they're gonna give you a call?
Well, let's try to prevent that. Alright? Okay.
-What was your primary drug of choice? -Meth, crystal meth.
-[doctor] Alright. Um, how old are you? -I'm forty-one.
Forty-one. And how long have you been sober?
-Two years. -Two years.
The 15th of April 2015.
You know, for--
Since I was fourteen, fifteen years old, like, drugs, particularly meth, has been like everything.
It was, you know, how I got places to stay.
And then as I got older, it's how I made my money.
And just like my entire life is like wrapped around, you know, sex, fucking, you know, high and--
And now I'm sober and it's great, but I'm a little disconnected.
I don't know, you know, and I'm not sure where I fit in yet.
-[doctor] Okay. -Does that make sense?
Absolutely. The normal world might even not be chaotic enough, it might be too calm.
-At times. -Okay.
The recovery sounds like it's stable for the most part, it's really about adapting.
Yeah, pretty much I just paint and try not to get myself in any trouble.
[Jacob] Everything comes out in my art. That's my free space.
That's like-- that's the one time I don't have to...
Count anybody, I can just-- it just comes out.
[Jacob] That's why I get frustrated or I get mad, like, when I think about it, I-- I try to analyze it or look at it, like, that's not what I'm doing it for, what I'm doing it for is the time when my music's going and I'm doing my thing and I just--
It's one thing I can do where I don't have to worry about what anybody else thinks.
I don't-- I can just-- I can just, like, I don't even have to think, I don't even have to plan, I can just like go.
I was born in Grand Junction, Colorado.
My mother, she was crazy, she drank a lot, did drugs.
Tried to drown me in a bathtub, like, set the house on fire, left me in there, like crazy, crazy shits.
So I said, "Fuck it." I left.
I was 14, Valentine's Day. That does it. Never went back.
Obviously, I was young, like, new me.
Like people were-- I was, you know, learned how to hustle sex right away.
That's the first thing, I learned how to hustle.
When I'm in my addiction and I'm getting high and I'm living that life,
it's all about, like, trying to feel okay or not feel at all, just trying to be okay in this space that I'm in.
[man] You know, it's very important to know the balance between when someone begins to reveal too much of themselves.
Many times because of that it becomes overwhelming, it can be really traumatizing.
And sometimes prevent them from coming back to get the services they need.
[doctor] So, he was very forthcoming and very open to revealing much of what it is he experienced.
And I'm sure there's a lot of time ahead of us where we'll be able to get to the root of everything it is he needs to share.
[Guy] I'm Guy, I am a clinical social worker slash psychotherapist.
It was not until I admitted I was an addict that I really understood addiction.
Although I'd studied addiction, I was dabbling in a very managed way with drugs on and off.
I'll see you later.
-Love you. Bye-bye. -Love you too.
-Alright, take care. -[man] Bye.
Before being the therapist, I think there's just built-in arrogance and, you know, I-- I did my best to be empathic and compassionate, but deep down inside I was always curious to know why they couldn't control their drugs and I thought I could, and there was an element of judgment in that, right?
So, I think, clinically, I am much more able to see myself as the same as a therapist as the people I treat, which I think is a really useful tool for me.
There is a culture now that I love about being queer and, you know, social justice and we all have a story and a history and we all have our types.
It's a subculture. It's a fully formed culture that I had a lot of anxiety about entering into.
But what crystal meth did was it took all those-- no one-- no one asked me who I was, no one asked me, like, where I went to school, no one cared about, like, whether or not I was married before, certain-- no one certainly cared about me being HIV positive.
And-- and what I have discovered is that most people were.
[David] Some estimates are that as many as fifty percent of gay men who are using meth will ultimately seroconvert, get HIV and often Hep C as well.
[Rob] So when I was diagnosed with HIV in 1998, it was still stigmatized.
It was not something you wanted to have.
It certainly was not something that you wanted to have if you wanted to be sexually active.
So, so methamphetamine and-- and HIV have a real interrelated history, especially in a place like New York.
From the-- the mid '80s to about '95, '96, HIV was a death sentence.
People were dying all the time.
On the streets in the village you would see people with really severe dementia, thin, thin guys with canes.
My own AA recovery support group lost eighty percent of its people.
So I think it just was a dreary time.
All of us were scared to death.
No one spoke about having HIV.
Most of us had it and were free to talk about it.
My brother had already converted and my mother knew about that.
And I was very determined for her not to had to carry the burden of worrying about two of her sons dying.
I would call people shortly after meeting them because I'd want to go out or hang out with them a second time and they'd be dead.
Somebody would answer their phone and say that they had just passed away.
And a lot of people were going on disability at that point in time.
One of the things we were doing at work was helping everyone go on disability so they can enjoy what was left of their lives.
It's like I grew-- I grew up with HIV.
I-- I grew up on the streets with HIV.
I planned on dying.
I expected, I'm like, "Okay, I have five years to live," 20 years old.
I can still remember thinking to myself and repeating over and over, "I'm damaged goods. I am damaged goods.
No one's gonna want me. I'm untouchable."
So I think in the social context of the HIV epidemic, especially those-- those early dark days, I think people were just looking for a way to check out.
And I think methamphetamine, because of its very powerful punch in terms of the dopamine it releases, it was kind of a natural for people to use at that time.
So people were maxing out their credit cards, people were partying their asses off.
I think the culture began to change.
Clubs started to die out.
People weren't working, so they had way too much time on their hands.
And the only way to spend your day were to go to like some sex party.
Around '95, '96, when protease inhibitors were introduced, we really had a change in the mortality rate.
So people sort of stopped dying.
And by that time a lot of people were on disability but they saw the opportunity to just kind of celebrate.
And I think meth came along and people felt like they were gonna live again.
After a while, like, you are not dead and now what you've been doing to survive has become a habit for you.
You know what are you gonna do?
Like, run out and I don't--
I didn't have an education, I didn't even finish high school.
So I figured, you know, I think I could do was sell drugs.
[Andrew] Alright, let's go guys. Come on. We're gonna go for a walk.
Come on here. Let's go. Come on here.
[Andrew] So my sober job is walking dogs.
I was an escort for seven years but I kept relapsing.
So I teamed up with a couple of guys from my twelve-step program who already did dog walking and I joined with them and...
Come on, guys.
It's like money I would feel better about earning than through prostitution.
You know, they can be a handful sometimes.
This is Ollie, this is Aya.
They're like my craziest dogs but they're behaving at the moment, so.
Aya, no. No.
I pick them up, I walk them for about a half an hour,
make sure they do their business,
play with them a bit, take them back, and it's on to the next one. It's a pretty busy day.
Structure is really important for an addict.
It makes me more, you know, accountable, more responsible.
I don't have as many windows of opportunity to go and try and get high.
If I don't show up for work, my friends are totally screwed over.
[woman] Let's go, lady.
-[woman] Sorry. -[woman] It's alright.
[Jimmie] With adulthood came some challenges.
So now I'm doing a lot of things to keep myself busy.
Guardian Angels is a volunteer safety patrol organization started in 1979 during the height of crime in New York City.
The most notable thing is we do the subway patrols.
And there's different chapters for different boroughs in different districts within the borough to do a patrol on the train.
We'd like to make our presence known.
And we don't carry weapons.
All we have is the self-defense training and we do our best to subdue whatever threat is apparent.
In a big city like this, you need all the help you can get and just someone's presence is enough to kind of deter things.
-[Jimmie] So when did you join? -[man] Last month.
[Jimmie] Last month? What do you think?
You can hand them to people to try and put them in the slots in the ads thing. Thanks.
Even if I don't feel like going today, let me get up, take the train, let me get these flyers together, hand them out and, like, really start doing it.
At the end of the patrol, you know, it's always a good feeling.
Do you want me to do this moment really fast?
-[woman] Yes, please. -That's high--
[woman laughing] That's high.
[woman singing] ♪ If you ask me what I need ♪
♪ I'll tell you What food to eat ♪ If you're in New York City and you're, you know, living off of your creativity, you're already winning.
It's already like, okay, you're not-- you're not dead and you're able to make art and you're okay.
Like, in terms of a professional music career and where I'm at, I'm doing, you know, logistically, pretty well.
I'm not-- you know, I'm not Madonna but I'm making money, I'm supporting myself only by doing music.
I think drinking so long and the culmination are just like always being kind of in a fog.
I wasn't performing as well as I do now that I'm sober.
That's for sure. But I felt like I was, you know.
I think even the things that I was writing about weren't coming from the mind of a clear head.
♪ I put on a black T-shirt ♪
♪ 'Cause you say That's good to wear ♪
♪ And we hover in the corner ♪ They were coming from the mind of someone who was really sick.
So, those songs and that work, obviously, wasn't going to have much life.
You know. It didn't have much to offer other people.
A full-time job, that-- that's not me.
Because, you know, working a full day and then counting up, eight seventy-five or, you know, nine dollars or the nine seventy-five, and then taking away the taxes and be like, "Oh shit, this evening I made sixty bucks and exhausted."
But why am I gonna, you know, keep doing this when I can go to some hotel room, people would pay for it?
Just spend time with me, you know.
Celebrities, billionaires, businessmen, these people are so, so sad. So sad.
They have to hire me and like, I'm their therapist.
I had five years sober at one point, five years.
They were good years and I had--
I mean I had a lot-- a lot of-- everything--
I remember driving up the street in my car at my little 5.0 thinking, you know, "Fuck, I have everything that I've ever wanted, everything I've ever dreamt of."
Like, I was in school getting like A's and shit, you know.
I never imagined that I would be there.
And I really believed that I would not use again.
And what happened, I got an argument with my lover at the time and just for a flash it was okay to get high.
I was, you know, and-- and that was it.
Once the needle was in, that was-- that's game over.
And I know now if that-- if I get high now, game over.
I'm-- I'm not coming back. I'll go till I'm dead.
[Kristian] I am definitely scared of needles.
Every time when I see the nurses or doctors or whoever, I would like half the time faint, you know, and get my blood drawn.
[Kristian] So enough of these syringes.
Okay. That's the units, CCs.
Heroin in the Hollywood make things look much faster.
Some people will use dirty hands and not even, you know, wipe-- you know, use the-- wipe their arm before and there'll be stuff floating around and they will have fucking lumps, you know, all fucking like golf ball-sized lumps in their arms and their veins will be gone. And I'm not perfect.
But after the first few months of other people slamming me and me looking away and having, you know, there'd be a few times, you know, they fucked up, I learned what I needed to learn and started serving myself.
Some people are able to do just like that, just a damn boop, boop, boop, and off they go.
After eleven years of crazy, crazy, crazy sex and unprotected sex and the needle sharing and the purposeful, you know, sleeping with positive guys,
I'm so surprised-- I'm so surprised that I am not HIV positive.
[Kristian] Basically gives you this animalistic primal sexual carnal energy.
And that's the main energy, you know. That's fantastic.
I just slammed and I feel so fucking good.
It's gonna go on for a good while, a few hours.
So I'm gonna be fucking used by fucking men.
So this guy, he said he's gonna wear me down like a property and-- but I know my place.
Then he asked, you know, what's the craziest thing I've done, and I sent him my Social Security Number, Social Security card.
I enjoy my partying, you know. I don't want to stop my partying.
[man] When the DEA came to the door, they pounded on the door and said "Police."
My partner actually is one who answered the door.
They started trying to knock it down.
And my partner said to them, "Well, would you like me to just open the door?"
And they're like, "No, we're the fucking police."
I wish the hell I'd been here.
I would just love to have just gone, click, whoop.
They-- they busted the deadbolt, they knocked it off to the wall here, bent the metal here.
I covered it with wrapping paper for Christmas and just left it on there because it looks so badly.
But we're used to it by now, but it's still a reminder every time you look at it.
And it's-- it's not something I need to be reminded of.
It'll always be there.
Eventually, the money ran out and it just seemed like a great idea to go to my dealer and say, "Hey, would you loan us a little extra that I could sell so that I could not only pay for what I want but also keep the gravy train rolling?
You know, move-- move a little product for you and, you know, pay for my habit."
He was hesitant but then he said yes.
And we were off to the races.
And having the drug in the apartment all the time was perfect for getting high all the time.
I can't remember many times when I wasn't high.
To sell three or four ounces a day is normal.
I mean I would be sending out to California at least twice a month, thirty to forty thousand dollars.
I would run all night long on rollerblades getting five-hundred-dollar money orders all over town and I would go to FedEx and I would put them in a-- in a FedEx envelope and I'd send them out to California.
By the time I got home, there was a message on my machine from someone and he identified himself as a worker from FedEx.
And he said, "Dude, I don't know what's going on but the DEA was just here and they opened up your envelope.
They took pictures and they closed it and they put it back in thing."
He said, "I don't know what's going on."
And I-- and, of course, you know, that's scary.
So I immediately got a hold of my person in California and I told him the situation, he said stop everything, get everything out of your house, blah, blah, blah.
Like, okay, and then which I did.
So I was living my life normally, you know, as normal as I could be, you know, not selling any drugs, not talking about it on the phone, and my supply, which was quite extensive for me personally, was starting to dwindle.
And, for me, my-- my brain kind of first stops thinking after a while, you know, we call it selective thinking.
I forgot all about that I was being watched.
And my friend called me, said, "Listen, I'm gonna call California, and get something sent out," and I-- and I said, "Oh, me, too. Give me two of them," because I was getting low. I forgot all about it.
And then when it showed up at his house, he called me and said "Come get it."
And I forgot all about it, and when I walked out, they got me.
One of the things that you learn about in the underworld of drugs when you're a dealer is that there are addicts everywhere, there are addicts from every walk of life, there are addicts in the streets who can't afford anything, who will offer you a blowjob for a quarter of a gram.
And I had clients who order by large volumes who were major business executives in the entertainment business, um, movers and shakers, and it's all walks of life from the gutter to the penthouse.
[Matthew] So at-- at a certain point that story gets old.
It's not interesting anymore.
You start to grow up like, "This isn't going to actually get me anywhere."
I remember, like, going to like a deli and trying to order a sandwich and I couldn't even order the sandwich, I was so fucked up.
I had also told my little brother, like, "Yeah, I smoked meth," like, "I don't know why I keep..."
Yeah, he's like, "You should stop that."
I was like, "Yeah, I know," but then I kept going back and doing it.
And all those, you know, walls were crumbling slowly around me and, you know, the whole illusion, you know, shattered on itself, so.
[man] There's all kinds of physical health ramifications, stroke, heart attack, liver and kidney failure. It's devastating.
[Matthew] When my friend came and got me, it was an Ash Wednesday.
It was so weird.
And I remember walking around, like, so just like tweaked out of my head and seeing all these people with like crosses on their forehead and being like, "This is too much."
And she took me to a meeting and she found a meeting at the center.
Many addicts aren't inspired to change until things get so bad that they have no alternative.
And I think that's often the point at which people get into twelve-step recovery and can begin that process.
[man] Hey. Hi.
-How are you? -Good.
-So what are we doing today? -[man] Step seven.
The concept of giving away to keep it is the most important thing for me.
Like, I have worked with sponsees since I had a year and they're telling you all their deepest, darkest secrets.
They're confiding in you every night, you know, or, hopefully, or they are making connection with you that's so powerful and all you're doing is telling them what you did and guiding them through a book that exists.
At first glance, step seven may almost seem an afterthought to step six.
And there's a need to practice spiritual principles in the place of character defects.
Sponsors are not hired, they don't get no money, they are not required to do it, and they do it because it's part of their last step, the twelve step is-- is I couldn't get totally sober without giving this away.
So number one, which of my attitudes have changed since I've been in recovery?
My attitude about CMA not working for me has changed.
I now believe it can help me if I open up and let it into my life.
And have I asked my sponsor for guidance?
When I decided that escorting was no longer a good job for me, for my sobriety, and I got a sober job walking dogs, so.
So, example of letting go and trusting that escorting wasn't what my higher power wanted me to do.
Like each addict has like a heart and a soul that was destroyed by this drug, and just asking questions starts to like-- like a boil, you know, one of those pimple-popping videos you see on YouTube, you know, it like all comes out.
And then once you get that out, you know, they start to heal.
And what do you think you're trying to suppress when you act on it?
I think I'm trying to suppress the--
the possibility that I may be wrong because that's, you know, I don't want to be wrong, that's embarrassing.
And, like with-- with escorting, for example, I kept holding on to this idea that I-- I can do it, I can--
I can be a prostitute and stay sober, even though I continually kept relapsing.
And that wasn't my-- but that was my whole livelihood for years.
So, to admit that that may be wrong was very scary because that meant, "Oh, I can't do that at all anymore," and it was very much my safety blanket for every-- you know, my income, self-esteem, different things like that.
So it felt like you were trying to take that away from me. And...
That was what I didn't know how to do in the past.
I used to think that sponsoring was just, you know, telling someone to go to a meeting every day, you know, and, you know, reading a book and having them write, like, grids down.
I didn't realize that it was actually like listening to someone and-- and asking the questions that will lead them to heal themselves.
So, there are really many avenues to recovery once someone understands that they may need that help.
The unifying factor that they all have is some kind of social format.
I think it's not something we can figure out by ourselves and that's something we can do in isolation.
I've had a couple of sponsors that I loved dearly.
One of them I worked with him for like two years and then he went into a spiral which he has not been able to get out of, of using.
But I haven't had to push him away or, you know, I have--
I don't feel anger toward him.
His humanity is just so clear to me.
Yeah, I should throw them out.
I'm gonna throw out a couple of old syringes that I probably used on my last relapse just because they shouldn't be in my bag. So, here we go.
I can't get off this well, of course, and I don't know what to do.
But at least I took myself to a meeting, and that ended the run.
But I still have fellows who are texting me and who are out and know that I'm struggling with this and are texting me, "I have an abundance of stuff, why don't you just come over?
Why don't you-- why don't you just come hang out?"
And it's just like, I don't know, and that started-- we can have two-week relapse where I used every single day, I was using more than I've ever used before.
Normally, I would use once intravenously and then be good for a couple of days.
I was using intravenously three times a day for two weeks straight knowing that I should stop after like the second time of shooting up and telling myself as I am preparing for the third one that I really shouldn't be doing this.
I was really hallucinating. I was already going crazy.
I was really thinking that people were trying to kill me.
But I am sitting there about to do it again.
It could easily be construed that people are using you, but you're letting them use you.
-Yeah. -You know, you're letting them.
I'm allowing them.
You're allowing them to do that to actually to degrade.
You know, you're actually letting them turn you into a resume that your value is in your youth and your beauty, and it's not. It's not.
You know, I'm 71 years old.
If you are-- if you-- if you are lucky, you're gonna be seventy-one someday, you're gonna-- you don't keep counting on your resume.
It doesn't work. It doesn't work today. It's a shitty way of life.
-Do you actually know what I am saying? -I do.
Yeah. It's nowhere.
But-- but I know because I've been there just like you, "Hello, my name is Rick, I'm an addict,"
I-- I know the scene.
And sometimes I've heard you say things that are just like, you know, "Oh my God, this kid just needs a little guidance here."
Maybe a little bit more than just a little guidance.
It's-- it's probably, you know, it's probably not that much more than a little.
-Yeah. -You know.
Rick has years as sobriety.
So, like, when I look at him, it just like maybe it's possible to get sober because, you know, for a while I just feel like there's no way that someone can stay sober from using crystal meth for so many years and just like stop using.
Like that doesn't exist, it's a fairy tale, it's a lie, everyone goes back to using, like, and if you don't, then you, clearly, didn't use meth the right way.
But, you know, I've heard of Rick's story and he's used meth the very right way and he's able to not go back to it.
-[Rick] Why don't I take your phone number? -Yeah, definitely.
-You got it? -Yep.
-Shoot me a text. -I'm gonna shoot you a text right now.
[Ralphy] It really is a beautiful day, it really is.
So there is still this dynamic interplay between HIV and crystal meth and that a lot of the people were saying coming into care right now for HIV services happen to be crystal meth addicts as well.
The irony of a lot of gay men having survived HIV only to succumb to crystal meth.
And so I think there is this kind of urgency to-- to address it.
Um, so some other things. Are you undergoing healthcare?
What is your medical situation like? You said you were HIV positive.
Yeah, I've been positive since I was fifteen actually.
So, I mean, a long time.
-From the beginning. -Yeah. Yeah. Back when-- back when people still-- still were getting chaos and dementia and all that.
-So this was in your teens? -I was, yeah, I was fifteen.
So what was that like being a teenager being diagnosed with something that back then was considered terminal?
It's just such a huge piece of who I am and what's built me and made me and challenged me and hurt me and, you know, getting sick very young.
I had-- I had like, like, in Children's Hospitals, because I didn't have a family and they did biopsies on me and shit.
-It was terrifying. -Have you had opportunistic infections?
-Oh, yeah. -Okay.
Yeah, I've been-- I spent-- the worst one, I spent six months, like, and tubes and I couldn't eat.
So we're dealing with another layer of trauma, the addiction, the child abandonment abuse, and now a major, major medical ordeal.
-How are you doing now? -I'm still here.
[man] The other side of the intersection of meth and HIV is for people who are already HIV positive, it dramatically affects adherence to medications.
So, they can develop resistance to their drugs.
When I was using, I would sometimes not take my HIV medication all the time.
You know, I would go out on a Friday, I would bring the pills with me but then I'd be so high I would like forget to and oh, you know, surprisingly, I never became resistant to the medication, luckily.
And I take Truvada, Prezista and Norvir.
I've-- I forget I have HIV all the time because it's kind of like having diabetes now and that's, you know, not something I have said, it's something my doctor has said. It's-- it's a chronic thing.
But, you know, my viral load is undetectable, so I would show up negative on it if I were to take an HIV test.
So, like, I'm really at peace with it.
I keep this on my dresser and I guess this is kind of like a shrine in the sense.
Even though nothing really will replace my mom, it's just a reminder that she's always there.
Me and my mom, our relationship was complex because she was really one of the only people who would ask me directly about my sobriety because she understood what that was, what that life was like.
I'll say that what contributed to her passing was her own addiction.
She was addicted to crack.
And she was trying to fight it, I think, in-- in little spurts, but ultimately it took her down.
So that's something that I have to remember like always.
I have a real reason to stay sober. I owe this to her, you know.
The day off where I'm at my sister's house, one of the first things she says and she's like five-six months pregnant, she was like, "I can't have you relapse in because I can't do this all on my own."
My daily schedule, everything is set up in a way where it's really inconvenient to use.
I'm kind of in the sweet spot. I don't want it to be any other way.
Of course, there are signs everywhere that say "Stay on the path" and I completely ignore those.
I haven't encountered in the path police, yet.
That is fucking awesome.
What is so cool about this reflection is that a lot of the way something is reflected off a glass depends on the glass.
Each piece of it is not as perfectly flat as you would have with normal glass.
So what that means is from a distance that it all looks the same from here, but the further you get away from it, the more the differences in the way that it's shaped are pronounced and it looks like a Picasso.
And it's brilliant.
For me, the reflections are a metaphor for my experience in recovery because when I was getting high all the time, I didn't see flowers, I didn't see birds, I didn't see the beauty of nature or the beauty of great architecture.
Those things were like parting glasses to me, you know, whatever, it was there but I didn't think about it.
It does make me reflect.
You know, it's funny.
When you're high on drugs, depending on the drug that you're on, you can get pretty shaky, you can get pretty nervous and jittery, and there's not a drug out there that does that more, I don't think, than meth.
And when I stopped using drugs, when I got off of the meth and I started using photography instead, my hands stopped shaking and my photographs got better.
I'm working with three singers and songwriters right now and we're starting this thing called The Emergence Collective where we just get together and we, like, help-- like, help build songs like stack harmonies or whatever. So I wrote it for them.
And, yeah, I just wanted it to be fun.
Right on, come up. Here it goes.
♪ Hold me With silent prayers ♪ It will go down there.
[singing a high note]
The challenge for me now has been, like, what am I doing this for?
I've been playing and singing since I was five years old because I love it, because it brings me joy.
I love the feeling of music going through my body.
It's like it's better than-- it's better than drugs.
Singing in harmony is better than any fucking drug you can-- you can experience.
And I think people want to feel connected to each other and music makes you feel connected.
So we try the whole thing? Okay.
♪ You lay me next To the others on the ground ♪
♪ Hands on chest Like we're laid to rest ♪
♪ Deep in a drought ♪
♪ No water to be found ♪
♪ Bread the stars With restriction Of being a stone ♪
♪ Blind thus dreams With the ancient screams ♪
♪ You beckon them come out ♪
♪ The demons have to moan ♪ There's this saying in recovery that feelings aren't facts.
So, that-- that to me is what this song is.
It's like I feel like shit right now but I believe that tomorrow it might not be this way.
And a lot of it's overwhelming is what I am telling myself.
♪ That I had like the pain ♪
[everyone singing] ♪ Should let go ♪
♪ Then the thunder roars ♪
♪ And the rain falls ♪
♪ Then the thunder roars And the rain falls ♪
♪ And the rain falls ♪
♪ And the rain falls ♪
♪ Make me open I hike Like the day that occurred ♪
-Yeah. -[Matthew] Bam.
[Matthew] Thanks, guys.
[man] So one of the aspects of methamphetamine that make it particularly damaging is that it's neurotoxic, which means simply that when meth-- meth molecule sits on the dopamine receptor, instead of being washed off like it would be for cocaine, it actually sits there and destroys the receptor.
And so the implication of that is that while those transporters are being regenerated, dopamine is not being adequately distributed in the brain and that impacts mood, so people can get highly depressed, people can get very impulsive, people become suicidal.
[Jimmie] That would be the hardest thing about staying sober is like sometimes really wanting to escape and isolate.
Sometimes you get worn down. You don't want your mind to be idle for too long.
Typically, about ninety percent of people relapse on the way to recovery.
Getting past the drug use is really just the beginning.
Recovery is really all about what-- what follows from that point.
Do I want to use? That's-- that's funny, yeah.
Do I wanna get drunk, do I wanna party? Yes.
Not all the time but, yes, once in a while I'm like, "I could-- I could go for a joint, I could go for a drink," all that stuff.
I did relapse on a Sunday and I had to be at work at-- on Monday and I actually stopped using drugs because I, you know, as I knew I had to show up for work the next morning.
That was one of the hardest parts about it having to call them and say like, "I've relapsed, I'm really gonna try to make it into work tomorrow but I'm-- I'm in an awful state."
It was important to me that I not let them down and that's something I never had before.
[Andrew] Okay, guys.
Relapse wasn't an option for me because I was not going back to prison.
Even if it was like walking on hot coals, I had no choice.
I'd put myself in situations where I was fooling around with someone and he said, "Here, will you hold my pipe?" and I held his pipe for him.
But never did I say, "Oh, you know what I could take a hit of that."
[Ralphy] I've had a few relapses and I'm recently coming back from a relapse.
You know I am able to accumulate some months and then I think I'm cured.
That's my problem. I think like I can handle everything.
I think that I-- I got this down packed;
I think that everything's fine and I'm normal now and I can go have sex and not think about meth.
And-- and sex has been a huge, a huge driver for my-- for my relapses.
And it's just because I feel like I can have the sex that I was having while I was having on meth.
So if we do one behavior like sex and have a certain kind of mental state like being high, if we do that enough simultaneously, those two experiences become joined, if you will, fused, in the same neural pathways.
I am thirty years old now. I have never had sober sex.
Since I started having sex, it's been poppers, alcohol, coke, K, weed, Molly.
If someone gets clean, when those two things have fused, very often their sexual desire goes out the window as well.
So it's not uncommon for people in recovery to have no sexual desire for a month or three months or six months or a year.
There's a mourning period that I haven't gone through.
Like, I have to mourn the death of like this fake façade amazing sex that I thought that I was having that never really happened.
I had to mourn that.
As gay men in the U.S., we're still learning how to really socialize with each other, how to not turn everything into sex, how to have platonic gay friends.
Like, this is the first time that I ever was able to relate to gay men without thinking, "Oh, it would be nice to fuck him" maybe sometimes, "But it would be nice to fuck him" or, "Oh, was he interested in me?" Blah, blah, blah.
That's certainly probably the biggest single challenge is that people relapse because they're not having any sex and they feel they can't have sex and then meth gives them that opportunity.
I relapsed last year in mid-October and I think by that time I had missed a couple of shifts with Guardian Angels.
So, you don't feel confident enough really to do it and then that kind of stays with you for a while, and it shows in your body language and it shows everywhere else.
Everybody starts asking you if you're okay and shit like that.
And I hate that.
My using days has helped me to, like, be able to pick out when somebody is really strung out.
I can see that now.
I'm doing something that's actually worthwhile and I'm not taking up energy and taking up resources and taking up space and taking up money being, you know, a public nuisance.
So it's kind of like I flipped a little bit and now I can see it from the outside looking in.
[woman on voice speaker] This junction is Newport.
If anybody wants to parTy with capital T and they hadn't yet, I would strongly discourage them.
Acting like a mom about it and say, "No, this is blah, blah, blah, I'm not gonna be the one to bring you into it."
And then I got to a point where I realized, "You know what, like, these are grown-ass people," you know what I mean, "They want to do it, they want to do it.
They can make their own, you know, decision."
I made my own ground decision, you know, when I did it the first time, so they can make their own ground decision.
So I've never had a boyfriend. I burn the candle a lot fast.
You know, after a week or two, ideally, it would be a relationship, you know what I mean?
Just-- there's no exactly, like, perfect way to describe it.
I can't like write it out, you know what I mean, like a perfect plan.
For me, again, I'm not trying to live, you know what I mean, some long life.
You know what I mean? Or, like, trying to reach like ninety, you know.
Whatever my life will be, my life will be, you know.
Yeah, it will take its course, yeah.
So when Shane was healthy enough, we used to take walks.
He liked cold weather.
He always called me a pussy because I put so much on.
We particularly liked this area because it's all rock and there's this huge part of the rock formation that's just out over Park Drive.
From the time that Shane and I started seeing each other, we used something.
Meth was a huge part of our relationship for the majority of our relationship.
And that only changed after we got arrested.
Um, I was-- we were both required to stop using.
We were both monitored by pretrial services.
Shane was a slicker relapser than I was.
He figured out how to do it and not get caught. I was not as good.
There was a lot about his life that was just torture for him.
How he landed on just ending his medications I don't really think I'll ever understand. That's a tough way to go.
But that's what he decided, he decided to stop taking his HIV meds and he did that in June of 2016.
Can you check if my shoes are black-- my black shoes are down?
-Which ones? -The one I was looking for the last time.
-I don't know, it's probably-- -[Loic] I think they are-- oh, you don't want me to wear them?
[man] I don't remember which ones. So sorry.
[Loic] I think they are, you know, with the little stuff on the top like--
I was traveling for work and I had a day off when I first got to Chicago.
And I spent that day with the door closed watching porn.
So I went online and I started like emailing guys on Craigslist and on Adam4Adam.
And then a few months later while I was away, again Loic calls me or texted me and he-- and he saw one of these emails that was in my inbox from these Craigslist exchanges.
It was like completely gross and lewd and he was really hurt by it obviously.
I called him right away and we talked-- we talked about it and I just-- it was like, "Thank God he saw that email 'cause now he knows I'm not perfect."
It just was like a relief. I'm like, "Oh, I don't need to pretend that I'm not, like, still sick."
-Do you have the license? -Yeah.
I was on the phone and he was worried about some stuff and I just said-- you were in France and I was in South Carolina--
And I just said, "Let's just get married."
And he's like, "What?" I'm like, "Yeah, let's get married.
-We'll be okay." -Yeah.
And then it solved all the problems and, logistically, and so that's what we decided to do. Wasn't very official.
[man] Go inside the wedding area behind me and I'll call you by your name.
-You know I'm next. -Hmm?
-We are next. -We're gonna be-- I'm your first husband.
How do you feel?
You're gonna be my first husband.
You're gonna be my first husband.
-I hope to be the last one, too. -I do, too.
-[man] Marrying Matthew and Loic. -[cheering]
I said to him, "Do you want to get married?"
We had exchanged rings a couple of years earlier.
I had given him a ring and he gave me this.
And so he said yeah.
So I went to the chaplain at the hospital and had them draw up papers.
The doctor drew up the papers that I could take down to the marriage bureau and we never got that far.
This is Shane's remains.
I had told myself this was just his ashes, this is not Shane.
It's such a small box but it's heavy.
I don't think that I ever felt more love for him than when he was suffering.
So it's painful as those times were as hard as they were.
I guess it was a way for me to remember that I was cared for him.
You know, he only died three weeks ago and...
I thought I'd be further along in my grieving, but I realize there's no timeline for grief.
I didn't want to feel the pain of losing him, which I felt was inevitable.
I didn't want to feel the pain of feeling that I had no hope.
In recovery we talk about how, you know, you don't get addicted overnight and you don't recover overnight.
And grief is the same way.
I have had to admit that I am powerless over my grief and the-- the only way for me to heal is to surrender to it and just feel what I feel when I'm feeling it.
-[woman] Great. -[Loic] Left hand.
[Loic] I'm your first.
[man] This is yours, baby.
-Okay. Let's go. -All right.
Like if I start thinking, you know, forever, it turns into, "Oh, no, I'm trapped in a marriage," and I can't do that.
Like, I will-- I will start to self-destruct if I started to think of forever.
I'd to tell him like two months in the dating him that if you were to leave me, I would be fine.
I have a community of people who love me, I am connected, he's not the reason I am happy.
He hasn't fixed my life, he hasn't changed my world.
That-- that came before he got here. All that was already there.
So when he showed up, I was like, "Cool, I'm ready for this."
And if he has to go or if life changes, I mean, I don't have to control his love for me.
He can do whatever he needs to do and I'm okay, I feel safe.
And most of what we do on a daily basis with each other is just goofy and fun and it just makes time pass in a more delightful way.
Navigating New York City as a young person who doesn't have people here is hard.
And one of the best things about getting sober is now I feel like I have people and like if-- if shit hits the fan or I don't have money, like, or any-- any of that stuff, you know, like I can at least, like, talk to people about it, whereas when I was on my own it was like-- it was impossible.
As of May 12th, I am HIV positive.
Sometime between January and a few weeks ago I contracted HIV.
There you go. It's alright, kids.
First or second day of May or the last day of April even in time linked up with this guy on one of the apps, Grindr or Scruff and went to his place.
Then out of nowhere "Puff, puff, puff," I'm hearing this noise.
So they're busting ten guys, full SWAT gear, guns, gun to my head, I'm butt-naked, they cuff everybody.
The thing with me is I know I can handle any situation that I end up in.
If I end up in prison, I'll deal with prison, you know.
I'm just enjoying this moment and that's it.
-Congratulations. -Thank you.
-On new year. -Thank you.
-Very proud of you. -Good to see you.
So, tonight, is my watch.
What a watch is is it's my one-year anniversary of being sober.
It's my friends from recovery and people who have helped me get to this point all come out, just chill till midnight and then that's when I'll, like, really officially have a year and we'll celebrate.
And I've been struggling for a long time, so this is kind of a big deal for me and for my friends.
I am really happy that my friend Jimmie has like the exact same day count as me coincidentally, so we get to have a mutual watch and celebrate together, sort of takes the edge off and, you know, it's just like more fun that way.
You missed him.
[Jimmie] This is a big milestone for me.
And everyone is asking me how-- how-- how do I feel, am I excited?
And I just honestly I think people are more excited for me than I am.
But, like, it is-- there's something about it that seems to come full circle.
There's something about it that it really is-- it's kind of beautiful and it's really just such a great show of love and family.
You may have like what I want-- what I was looking for in the first place.
You know, which was really just community so.
My sponsor, Michael, has really helped me get to this point just by believing in me.
It's nice to have somebody believe in you when you can't believe in yourself, and Michael was that for me, so.
And I think that that's what we come here for is to come from a place of isolation and desolation to make connections and to become these, like, wonderful shining men, you know.
So I'm really appreciative of you getting a year.
And I remember when I met you, you know, we were walking to like the D-Train or something and you were talking about your life and you told me "I don't have friends," like I just have me, my video games, my art, you know, and drugs.
And-- and I remember being just so struck because someone so vibrant and so smart and so handsome and so able would have-- not have anybody in his life.
And now, like you see tonight people really, really are inspired by you and care about you.
And-- and what a shift, what a shift.
So, congratulations and-- to you both and thank you.
Having a support like this, all-- all of this is kind of overwhelming.
You know, hopefully this is only gonna happen once.
And, Jimmie, I just want to say that, you know, there's-- it's really cool that we got to do this together and as, you know, we came in around the same time and we both been relapsing.
I don't know, it's just-- there's no-- no one I'd rather share a watch with. So, congratulations.
Here it is! I didn't think I'd really hit this point ever.
I didn't think I know what this would even feel like.
Like, it's been two years of this, of learning lessons and relapsing and going for long stretch of time of sobriety and, you know, getting kicked in the face.
So it's really just a privilege to be here because not everyone gets to do it.
I know everybody says that but, like, I understand it's really true now.
-[man] You made it! -[man] Congrats, guys!
Alright, now-- You guys can have sex now.
[man] Been waiting for two years.
Like, I am still very much a crystal meth addict.
I could go-- I could-- I could go out tomorrow, you know, or tonight even.
I don't want to, but that doesn't mean it couldn't happen and I've just got to be careful.
Just because I have a year sober, it doesn't mean I'm gonna be like totally out of the woods, so.
[man] This is not just a gay problem it's a problem for our whole society that we really need to start to think about it and address.
And the first step really comes from someone trying to identify with what they might have in common with that gay meth user as opposed to just simply judging them and saying, "Well, that's not me. That would never be me. Why don't they just get it together?"
What are the similarities here and what-- what vulnerabilities might I share that I see in another person and what solutions have they discovered that might be relevant to me?
In much the same way that we saw the-- the first traces of the problem emerge here, I think we're starting to see the first traces of a solution emerge here as well.